Saturday, 31 March 2012
If I Were A Rich Man
Here's an excellent article on the race to become London Mayor - written by Philip Collins for yesterday's Times newspaper.
Now I don't know Philip Collins - but I know how he feels and if I were still in the Labour party and living in London - I'd feel exactly the same way too.
Because Ken Livingstone is a self-centred, hugely divisive character - and it says all you need to know about the nature of London Labour - that the party couldn't come up with a more credible candidate.
Maybe a woman or even someone from a ethnic minority background - but yet again the people's party gets stuck with Ken - only this time he's a limited company (K4L Ltd) - just to add some extra spice and intrigue.
So to celebrate - or commiserate depending on you point of view - here's a clip of Topol belting out his famous song from Fiddler on the Roof.
"I’m a Labour member, but I can’t vote for Ken"
Making money from dubious sources is bad enough. Stoking divisions between communities is a disgrace
At the end of the day it will be too late. This is the day on which the names of the candidates to be the next Mayor of London are formally submitted. Both the main parties have run out of time to arrange for their man to be run over by a bendy bus or to fall off a Boris bike. Now it’s going to be Boris again or Ken again. Which prospect, as a confirmed Labour supporter and convinced advocate of the idea of city mayors, I find completely deflating.
I can summon up any number of reasons to dismiss Boris Johnson. Quoting David Niven, Charles Moore once summed up the Mayor by comparing him to Errol Flynn: “You knew where you were with Errol Flynn. He always let you down.” Here is a man with an excess of ambition for which he has no obvious use. He is the mayor who, in Daniel Boorstin’s definition of a celebrity, is famous for being famous. As he told Sue Lawley on Desert Island Discs: “My silicon chip, my ambition silicon chip, has been programmed to try to scrabble up this cursus honorum, this ladder of things.”
He’s certainly not famous for any great achievements. Even the policy with which he is most closely associated — the bikes that bear his name— was a gift left behind by his predecessor. Mr Johnson has no clear answer to why he needs a second term beyond the fact that he is not Ken Livingstone — a statement of the obvious that might, alas, be enough.
But despite these criticisms, I have to admit that I rather like him. Mr Johnson is genuinely funny and I will forgive him a lot for that. I know that it’s demeaning to an important office to be so visibly bored with the details of the job, but I have a sneaking regard for that too.
In fact, I have to confess that my reason for not voting for him has nothing to do with his deficiencies on policy or strategy. I have a stupid reason for not voting Conservative, which is that I don’t vote Conservative. That may be a dumb expression of identity rather than a serious analysis, but I’d be lying if I pretended otherwise.
So, now that I have come out as the kind of irrational tribal idiot not familiar to normal people, I will obviously be voting for Ken, without a second thought, despite his frivolous claims that the price of everything will magically go down. Won’t I? Well, not in this case, no. Even those who vote for a party as a matter of principle need to retain their principles.
It’s not really the evident hypocrisy of Mr Livingstone’s tax affairs that puts me off. When he established a company, Silveta Ltd, into which his earnings as a freelance were paid, Mr Livingstone did nothing wrong. But the sole purpose of pretending to be a corporation is to pay less tax. Even if it is not true that Mr Livingstone illegally claimed the costs of his political staff as a tax-deductible expense, he cannot go round calling tax avoiders “rich bastards who should not be allowed to vote”.
Though tax avoidance is a poor policy for a scourge of tax avoidance, Mr Livingstone still hasn’t lost me at this point. However, if you follow the money, he soon does.
The serious problem with Mr Livingstone’s money is not net; it is gross. I care much less about the rate of income tax that Mr Livingstone pays than I do about the source of the money. Mr Livingstone presented a show on Press TV, which is owned and controlled by the Iranian Government. He clearly thinks there is no moral problem in taking payment from a theocracy that denies the historical validity of the Holocaust and advocates stoning for adultery and homosexuality. I’m afraid I beg to differ on that.
It’s the intellectual origin of his gross salary that is testing the loyalty of the Labour clan. Yesterday, in a contrite article in the Jewish Chronicle, Mr Livingstone listed the many ways that his mayoralty had been good for the Jewish community in London.
Short of reciting the lyrics to If I Were a Rich Man he could hardly have been more effusive.
The reason this remarkable piece was needed was that Mr Livingstone had left the impression, at a meeting of prominent Jews, that he had given up on their votes because they were all stinking rich. Where do you start with that? As a Labour supporter, I don’t want a candidate who thinks rich people won’t vote Labour, by definition. And I want even less a candidate who thinks that Jewish people are all the same, to be taken for granted and ignored at the same time.
Though it would be churlish not to welcome Mr Livingstone’s contrition, it is, as yet, nowhere near enough. When I worked for Tony Blair, as the Prime Minister’s adviser on the Olympics, I saw Mr Livingstone’s dispute with the Reuben brothers up close. The conflict was bitter but there is no excuse for Mr Livingstone telling them, in effect, to go back where they came from. Even that pales next to his unconscionable complaint that a Jewish reporter was acting like a guard at a concentration camp. I want a direct apology for these nasty remarks.
I would also have liked some mention, in Mr Livingstone’s mea culpa, of the other stupidities of which he is guilty. I am waiting for Mr Livingstone to apologise for his patronage of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim scholar who supports female genital mutilation, suicide bombing in Israel and the murder of homosexuals.
Until Mr Livingstone’s penitence goes further, I will assume that he has been engaged in a deliberate strategy of dividing one community from another. How better to tie up the vote of London’s million Muslims than by offering a stony countenance to London’s 200,000 Jews? I don’t want a mayor anywhere whose politics pit one people against another. In the most diverse and tolerant city in the world it is a disgrace.
The Labour leadership should have dropped its candidate before now. David Lammy or Andrew Adonis, for example, would make fine mayors of London and perhaps one day they will.
Unfortunately, Ken, like Boris, floats free from party politics. The Labour Party is his servant rather than the other way round. Mr Johnson once described, in a piece in The Spectator, the contest between George Bush and John Kerry in which he gave, unwittingly, a taste of the contest he is in now: “We don’t have much of a choice in this election: between a man who inspires not much confidence and a man who inspires fractionally less.”